Gustave de Molinari, The Free constitution of Nationality (1899)

Gustave de Molinari, The Society of Tomorrow: A Forecast of its Political and Economic Organization, New York, 1904. French version : Esquisse de l’organisation politique et économique de la société future, Paris, 1899

Chapter II The Free Constitution of Nationality

The first, and by no means least, advance which will follow the establishment of a State of Peace will be free constitution of nationality.

All history attests that it was force, and in no sense a voluntary agreement of both parties, which erected the associations called political States; and at this point it may be useful to recapitulate what we have already said on the subject. The strongest members of the species, usually hordes subsisting by the chase and pillage, seized the territories occupied by weaker members. The conquerors effected a partition of these lands, and compelled the inhabitants to work for their benefit, whether by reducing the conquered population to a state of slavery or by leaving them in possession of the land, but subject to a system of serfdom or of simple subjection. The origins of a political State were a commercial speculation in agriculture or industry, and profits naturally depended upon the administrative capacity of their owner, the industry and productive aptitudes of the subject population, the fertility of the soil, and other similar conditions. Taken as forced labour, or as imposts in kind or in money, these profits constituted the owners’ revenue, and were, as such, subject to no limitation but that of the entire nett production of which the labours of the slaves, serfs, or subjects were capable. On the one side these labours supported the proprietors of the enterprise—to-day we should call them shareholders—and, on the other, they paid for the defence and aggrandisement of the collective domain.

Every association which carries on an industrial business must devise an administrative system to direct its various services. The State was no exception to this rule. Like all other businesses, the State acknowledged no end but interest, and it identified this with the conservation and enlargement of its profits. But profits can only be increased in two ways. The yield of imposts, whether of labour, of kind, or in money, may be increased; or the area of production may be enlarged. The latter method was preferred by the associations which owned political “businesses,” for the former required capacities for good government of which they were seldom possessed. But, since a community can only extend its domain at the cost of a neighbour, war naturally ensued, and while those communities which excelled in war enlarged their territory and their holdings in subjects, they increased their income at the same time. A merchant or manufacturer cares nothing for the race, language, or individual customs of his customers, and the States had no more regard for those of the persons who lived in the territories which they acquired. Their sole motive was interest, and all their actions were exclusively directed to obtaining those territories of which the conquest and maintenance seemed the most easy, and which promised the highest possibilities for lucrative exploitation. Entire populations, opposed in race, in language, and in customs, were thus drawn, whether they would or no, into the domain of the victorious association, to leave it only in accordance with the arbitrament of a new war, or according to family dispositions when a single house chanced to acquire complete sovereign control within the State.

To-day we consider such a method of constituting a nation, a nationality, or a “country,” to be barbarous. But, in view of the diversity and inequality of the various species of the human race, and the conditions under which they originally existed, this method was not only the sole possible means, but it was also the sole effective method of preserving the more feeble varieties from extermination. If the strong had never found that it was more profitable to subject the weak—for the purpose of living permanently on the exploitation of their productive abilities—than to rob and massacre, as the Turcoman and Bedouin recently did; if they had not, for this reason, been interested in the survival of those races which were incapable of securing their own protection, civilisation could never have come to pass. It was the discovery that to protect the weak and to prey upon his industry offered higher profits than a systematic career of raiding which first established, and then perfected, the arts of industrial production. High, excessive even, as was the price at which the producer bought his security from the associations of strong men who appropriated him as slave, serf, or subject, there was still an exchange of benefits, and he also made a profit on the transaction.

This appropriation of the weak by the strong was absolute, and usefully so, since it induced the proprietor to spare no effort in protecting his property. His rights as owner naturally extended to cession and exchange, however repugnant a change of masters might be to the feelings of “human property.” Yet the change seldom affected status to any appreciable extent. Whether from indifference, or in the hope of attaching a new subject, conquerors voluntarily respected local institutions, and rarely attempted to place restrictions on the use of the indigenous language. They were content—and it was, indeed, the one thing needful to themselves—to collect the imposts, in money or in kind, which had been exacted by their predecessors. These taxes were seldom increased; occasionally, at all events for a time, they were reduced.

The modern conqueror is less liberal than his prototype in these respects, and it is a curious consideration that this retrogression in the treatment of conquered peoples has followed the extension to the same peoples of the rights enjoyed by their masters. The new Theory of Sovereignty places in the hands of the nation those rights of property in, and exploitation of, the State, which were heretofore a perquisite of the oligarchies, erected by “conquest” and led by a “house.” But, by virtue of the same theory, the nation has been declared “one and indivisible,” so that the subjects, become sovereign, are no more free to sever their connection than before. Contrariwise, the nation is inseparable from the subjects, whom it may not sell or exchange; and if, under the compulsion of superior force, a nation is compelled to cede them, it is under immutable obligation to attempt their recovery on the first possible occasion.

From this theory of sovereignty have been derived two deductions which are, naturally, in absolute opposition. The first maintains that a population which has emerged from a state of subjection, and has acquired “ownership” of itself, cannot be separated from one nation and annexed to another without its own consent. This option was given to the Belgians when the armies of the Republic had conquered their territory, and it was also granted to the people of Savoy and Nice on their cession to France as a return for her services to the cause of Italian unity. The second, and contradictory, deduction—issuing this time from the theory of national indivisibility—refuses any right of secession from the State, and this refusal has been sanctioned by rigorous penalties, as if the right of accession to a State did not include the liberty of a withdrawal. The United States interpreted the modern theory of sovereignty thus. The English Colonies voluntarily incorporated themselves in the Union, but when the Southern States desired to withdraw the Northern States compelled them to remain in it by force of arms. In point of fact, the liberty enjoyed by populations voluntarily annexed or united is limited to a right of changing the form of their subjection. They were subject to an oligarchy, personified in a more or less absolute king; they are now the subjects of a nation, whose mouthpiece is a constitutional or republican government. The individual subject enjoys the compensation of a share in the national sovereignty, but the degree, as may be imagined, is not large. In France it is one in thirty-eight million parts.

It may be disputed whether this infinitesimal share in the sovereign power is sufficient guarantee of individual rights, and even of the rights of particular groups. Government, more or less correctly invested with this delegated power, has imposed a uniform system upon the whole of the national domain. Under pretext of strengthening nationality by unifying it, no regard has been had to the diversity of the populations in the various regions, but the real reason for this procedure was the wish to assure and facilitate, the exercise of sovereign rights.

In its most essential dispositions, at least, the old theory of sovereignty still maintains in such States as Germany and Russia. Even the meagre appearance of choice accorded under the new theory of sovereignty to populations which are annexed is denied to those which come into the relation with these States. Russia ignored the wishes of Poland when it annexed that country, and Germany appropriated Alsace-Lorraine with no inquiry as to their willingness to exchange French for German nationality. But, on the other hand, these governments of the old régime have found it profitable to borrow the practices of unification and assimilation initiated by their more advanced brethren. Populations annexed by them are deprived of their legislative and fiscal systems, and even of the national tongue. They are assimilated by the imposition of institutions which they dislike, and a language of which they are ignorant, while the conqueror never pauses to consider whether these despotic and brutal proceedings may not have a reverse effect to that which is intended, through the exasperation and repugnance which they induce, to assimilation and unification. And yet these means of State-aggrandisement and national expansion, however offensive to those populations which are compelled, under the most grievous penalties, to transfer their love and faith from one nation to another, are still justified by the continuance of the State of War.

While that state continues nations must develop their powers of production and destruction to the greatest possible extent, or prepare to be engulfed at the next outbreak of war. They can enlarge those powers by either of two methods—territorial expansion or an augmentation of internal wealth and population. Territorial extensions are subject to this further rule, that the costs of acquisition and maintenance, incurred on account of the new territory, must not exceed the nett increase of revenue secured by the successful undertaking. Simple self-interest compels States to conquer more territory and to forbid secessions, for secession, besides entailing loss of land and income, may add those identical losses to the assets of a rival power. If Russia withdraws from Poland that country may join Prussia in a war against herself, and an independent Ireland might become the base of operations and supply for the invasion of England.

The State of War is in absolute opposition to the right of free choice of nationality, of accession or secession. France solemnly proclaimed both rights. She permitted Belgium, Savoy, and Nice to exercise the former, but fenced their decisions with the most stringent guarantees. She denied all choice to Madagascar, Cochin-China, and the Arabs, and refuses to permit so much as a thought of withdrawal to territory that has once been subject to her flag. French territory, whether so for a long period or as a result of recent conquest, remains French unless lost by the fortunes of war.

A collective guarantee of peace would destroy this subservience to the State of War—a bondage which has appeared peculiarly intolerable since the case of Alsace-Lorraine. Such a guarantee would protect all States from aggression. Large or small, their integrity would be supported by a power superior to that of the most powerful partner, while every constituent part of a State would be free to vary its nationality at will or convenience. Secession could not menace the security of the remainder of a State, and could not therefore be opposed. The governing classes might not welcome the exercise of a right which curtailed their sphere of power, or, in the case of a composite nation, menaced their ability to favour numerically superior sections at the cost of the less numerous. But such actions could no longer be justified by a plea that they served the predominant interest of national security, and public opinion would cease to support the claim.

The advent of a State of Peace will synchronise with a disappearance of internal troubles, caused by differences of race, custom, and language. Constituted voluntarily, and according to natural affinities, composed of sympathetic or homogeneous units under a system adapted to all idiosyncracies, nations will acquire the highest moral and material development of which they are capable. While the unity of States is maintained by force alone, sectional favouritism breeds divisions and hatreds. They will disappear when a community of interest and action, founded on a common choice of, and common love for, a fatherland freely chosen, is established as the sole and sufficient basis of nationality.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *